New London Presses for Added COVID Testing


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NEW LONDON — The Ledge Light Health Department said it is working with the State of Connecticut to provide more COVID-19 testing capacity to the New London area in an effort to keep up with the surge in demand for tests. 

Steven Mansfield, director of Ledge Light Health District, said that the district was working to get State support for the New London testing site at Ocean Beach Park. 

Ledge Light, which comprises the towns of East Lyme, Groton, Stonington, New London, Old Lyme, Ledyard, Stonington, Waterford and North Stonington, has a total of four testing sites, each open for a few hours one day a week. Mansfield said that the sites have not been able to keep up with the recent need.

“Anecdotally, we are aware that many individuals in our jurisdiction are having a difficult time obtaining tests,” Mansfield said in an email. 

In the last week of December and the first week of January, lines at testing sites in Groton, Waterford and Stonington have reached their limit either before the testing event was officially scheduled to begin or minutes after.  

Passero told CT Examiner that New London was initially trying to reopen the testing facility at the local Community Health Center. The site, which was state-funded and ran seven days a week, shut down in June 2021.

“We understand and share the frustration our community members are experiencing and agree that testing capacity needs to be increased,” the district wrote in a Facebook post on Dec. 30 announcing that a site in Stonington, scheduled to provide testing from 3 to 6 PM, had reached capacity. The post was time-stamped at 2:54 PM. 

Mansfield said that the number of tests the district can do is limited by Sema4, the company that runs testing sites across the state of Connecticut. He said that this week, Sema4 has limited the number of tests to between 200 and 400 tests per site. 

The problem isn’t limited to Ledge Light. Patrick McCormack, director of UNCAS Health District, said that he’s watched the closing times for his district’s two testing sites get earlier and earlier. In the past, a testing site that might have reached capacity near 7 pm is now closing at 3:30 — half an hour after it opens. He said that people are arriving at testing sites two to two and a half hours in advance in order to secure a test. 

UNCAS, however, has more testing capacity than Ledge Light, despite having fewer residents. UNCAS, which comprises 11 municipalities with a total of about 100,000 residents, has two state-supported testing sites, one in Norwich and one in Griswold. The Norwich site provides drive-up testing availability six days a week, and the Griswold site one day a week. 

While the Ledge Light district, which includes nearly 153,000 residents, also has two state-supported testing sites — in Stonington and in Waterford — each site is open only one day per week. 

The health district itself staffs two other sites — one in Groton and one in New London — that provide an additional two days of testing per week. 

McCormack said that the amount of testing a site can provide depends on several things — staffing availability, the amount of tests available and how much the lab is able to process. He said that without the help of the State, UNCAS would not be able to sustain the testing sites it has. 

Mansfield said that the health district and the municipalities are responsible for providing funding and logistical support for the Groton and New London sites. 

“That includes purchasing and providing tents, tables, chairs, signage, etc. in addition to the enormous burden of setting up the lines, traffic control, answering questions, etc,” Mansfield said in an email. 

The district does not pay for the tests — he said that testing providers bill either a person’s insurance company or, if someone does not have insurance, the provider can bill the federal government. 

McCormack said that people aren’t limited to certain testing sites based on where they live. However, Passero said that traveling out to Norwich or Old Saybrook — a 25 minute drive in either direction — wasn’t an option for many of the city residents.

“It’s not a realistic opportunity for a good portion of our population in New London,” said Passero. 

Passero told CT Examiner that New London was initially trying to reopen the testing facility at the local Community Health Center. The site, which was state-funded and ran seven days a week, shut down in June 2021.

In the interim, Ledge Light set up a testing site at the Senior Center, which was running one day a week. The site was recently moved to Ocean Beach Park because of the high level of traffic, said Passero.

Mansfield said he did not know when the Ocean Beach Park site would become state sponsored. The State Department of Public Health did not respond to multiple requests for comment. 

The state is currently trying to increase testing capacity at multiple sites to keep up with demand. The state just expanded hours in its Norwich clinic, and state-sponsored testing sites in Middletown and Meriden are also planning to increase their testing capacity to deal with the surge in demand. On December 20, Gov. Ned Lamont announced that seven new state testing sites would be opened. 

The week before Christmas, 741 COVID cases were reported in the Ledge Light district. In the first week of January, that number more than doubled — to 1,628.

In the UNCAS district, the number of positive cases also doubled — from 638 the week of Christmas to more than 1,200 in the first week of January. 

McCormack said he knew that demand for the testing sites would continue — people who need to travel, undergo a medical procedure or get tested for work still need to have negative PCR tests. 

However, he said he hoped the availability of at-home test kits both from municipalities and at drug stores would help attenuate demand.

“I’m hoping that in the next week or two that will start to even out the lines a little bit or lessen the lines a little bit,” said McCormack. 

Emilia Otte

Emilia Otte covers health and education for the Connecticut Examiner. In 2022 Otte was awarded "Rookie of the Year," by the New England Newspaper & Press Association.